We are all fledglings these days. We can learn a great deal from nature. Certainly with cocooning we have more time now to carefully observe nature in our New Normal.
Just eleven days ago, as Ireland began Phase 1 of our Roadmap to Returning, my husband discovered a nest of baby blue tits in the cavity of some concrete blocks that had lain fallow during lockdown when some hard landscaping work had ceased. Tony, being a Franciscan at heart, immediately began to create a fortress to make sure Mama Bird could get in and out while our cats were not going to be allowed to indulge in any serial killer instincts. This Sunday, we can announce that they have flown the nest. Also, there is only one starling that is still rooming in the eaves over my writing space. The fledglings have begun to go out in the world, though Tony reports that one of the baby birds has been visiting him and watches him while he works in the garden. Perhaps the bird feels comforted by Tony’s protective presence.
We are all fledglings now. Cautiously, for essential tasks, we admit strangers to our homes. And then, if you are me, you spray every surface they could potentially have touched in the process of putting in copper gas pipes so I could make dinners. All delivery people and installers are masked, but it can be hard to stay with them in a heat wave. Well, for us, anything over 21C (70F) is a heatwave. We are languishing in afternoon temperatures rising to 24C this weekend.
Which is why I am posting the Sunday Weekly poem a bit later than usual. I am a shade plant. Though I am not really a morning lark by nature, in hot weather if I am going to be anything other than a slug, I have to perform essential tasks like the long(ish) dog walk, as well as some housework and garden weeding and watering before I reach melting point at 11am. We have a breeze today, so I made it to 11:30.
Ireland tends to feel shorted on summertime, but this year of lockdown has seen long, long periods without rain, lots of sunshine and now, temperatures that are warmer than we are used to experience at this time of year. The hawthorn blossom is spent and the elder is flowering early. A friend also noticed that the orchids we have around here seem to be out earlier, too. The springtime palette of purples and yellows is now yielding to the pinks of celine, lupin, foxglove and snapdragon. The rose Galway Bay has bloomed. The mallow, which had self-seeded all over the place in the poorest of conditions, is flowering early, too. Summer is looking very magenta pink this year!
Because it has been a busy week, with bursts of social interation with trades people, as well as unaccustomed heat, I have cut myself some slack on the Sunday Weekly Poem front. I have written a tanka again this week. Summer has come in. We have lots of work to do and have to pace ourselves through it.
How do you keep track of which day of the week it is if you are not working a regular job, at home or otherwise? What routine is part of your Covid 19 New Weekend Normal? One friend confessed that she ordered out for takeaway food each Saturday. Partly it was to take a break from cooking. Mostly, to have some kind of marker in the week that was regular. Although getting a takeaway these days means collection is by appointment and a masked and gloved person slides your order to you on a tray. It feels faintly illicit. For me, now that NaPoWriMo is done, it is getting back to my Sunday Weekly post. That is my New Weekend Normal.
Ireland began Phase 1 of its Roadmap to Reopening last Monday. Although there was an initial rash of more people stopping and having a shouted chat from the lane to us in the garden, things have slumped back to the quieter rhythm. It is as if now that we have had a little ration of other faces different from the ones we have been looking at for the last two months and more, that we have crept back to our old cocooning ways. That Ireland’s two month drought, which coincided with the Call to Cocoon, broke this week, does not mean there is a rush for tiny outdoor tea parties. At writing, there is a storm, heavy rain for sure, but also really blustery wind over 40 km an hour. So this weekend the weather has us indoors.
The New Normal also means that every diary date that has been noted in January is cancelled. This Saturday I was scheduled to give a Mindfulness Walk in the Cavan Burren. On Sunday we should have been fine dining at the MacNean Restaurant, celebrating our niece’s 28th birthday. At this point, I am looking forward to FaceTiming with her and thinking that, all being well, we might get to see her August 11th! As for the Sunday lunch, I shall have to hope we can get a 2021 slot.
Though I have to say that the Phase 1 of reopening seemed to unlock my ability to tackle re-writes, to edit individual poems for the manuscript that has languished between adjusting to our Covid19 New Normal and the diversion of daily poem writing for NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo. Anecdotally, I learned that many people had difficulty concentrating in the early days of Stay in Place. Although in many respects our lives did not change radically, it is often the subtle readjustments that throw us. Like when your cooker goes kaput and you are cocooning. For the first time ever I have invested in White Goods by looking at a photo of shopfloor model and paid by credit card over the phone. The delivery on Monday should be interesting. Nonetheless, things are shifting. The energy is subtly different.
Here in Ireland
This week, we opened the windows a crack.
So suddenly things felt a whole lot more people-y.
Though news travels tractor pace
up and down our lane, more cars passed
Monday, May 18th, and people didn’t just wave,
but pulled up, hand braked, to shout out catch ups.
Surprise that our neighbour next door went back to hospital
was it two weeks ago now. Shock that the cocoon funeral
actually had shoulder-to-shoulder pall bearers!
But the craic is the director has six family members on call.
There were pickups of garden cuttings set out on our wall
with shouted debates on how to avoid cultivation errors.
Just when we could have invited a friend round
for an outdoor cup of tea sitting two metres away,
the two month drought broke. The great wind
that might wind up being called Ellen blusters.
The willows are bending over at their waists
performing hourly ritual prostrations.
We remain in.
Cocooning prior to Covid-19 meant a time to go within, to regroup and recharge. It is especially sacred time for introverts to take time out when things just get too people-y. Here’s a poem I wrote before our current context. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/10/24/cocoon/.
Given the re-writes, the jigs and reels of submission guidelines, the brief fever of flash fiction writing this week, I am going to offer a tanka as the Sunday Weekly poem today. In terms of reopening from cocooning, I feel as if we may have cracked the pupa, but I feel like a very dozy caterpillar. The weather turned heavy this week as the low pressure system approached and a number of us (myself included) have felt zonked some days.
Some people count the weeks that they have been cocooned, quarantined or locked down. Until this morning I had not. I knew the date that was the last time we had driven outside of our village. We went to the nearest town twelve miles away to carry our some essential life laundry tasks and skittered back home fast. I was gloved up for that outing and have masked and gloved up since, even though Leitrim has the lowest infection rate in the Republic of Ireland. That was 52 days ago. Since then we have stayed within 2 kilometres of our home. Tony, celebrated his 70th birthday in March as cocooning was announced; he has been happily cocooned and busy in the garden. We realise how blessed we are to have it and our rural setting during this pandemic Chastening Time. I shop in the local grocery and post office/hardware for essentials. Anything we cannot get locally we buy online or is shopped for by a young neighbour, who also gloves up and masks, when he goes to the county seat each week. I sanitise like OCD is a fashion and not a mental disorder.
This week the realisation sank in that even as other parts of the world are loosening quarantine, this is now our new normal and will be for a long time to come. Technically, we could invite two non-related friends round for tea outdoors with our chairs spaced six feet from each other. In practice, I don’t think many of us are quite ready for that just yet. A kind of pandemic agoraphobia has set in. So while others may be planning a trip to the garden centre tomorrow, I have been contemplating the logistics of winter in the Chastening Time, which is now my name for this collective pandemic experience. Generally speaking, I am an optimist. But I respect science and historical experience.
I did some Googling around what people were reading during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. According to a YouTube documentary I watched this week it was misnamed. The origins of that virus was in the American rural heartland when it jumped from pigs to humans. Spain got the name because it announced to the world that this killer virus was sweeping the nation. Elsewhere there had been cases but due to media censorship during World War I, the infection was more rumour than public health bulletin. The troop movements exacerbated the virus finding more and more human hosts globally. The last landfall of that particular virus was Australia in 1919.
Of course, the horror of mechanised war was what dominated the poetry publisher lists. Siegfried Sassoon and Rudyard Kipling must have been an interesting juxtopositioning on the Publishers Weekly lists. W. B. Yeats published his Wild Swans at Coole that included his poem “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” Sara Teasdale’s Love Songs was awarded a Pulitzer in 1918. In 1919 Margaret Widdemer’s The Old Road to Paradise shared the poetry Pulitzer with Carl Sandburg’s The Cornhuskers. Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot were just beginning their poetry careers in the UK. They were also mourning poets killed by the war like Wilfred Owen and Edward Thomas, who was a close friend of Robert Frost.
Even though the Spanish Flu could strike you stone dead within twelve hours there is not a great deal to hint that this pandemic was killing more than the considerable casualties of the Great War. But, as a friend who studied Public Health Administration told me in a phone conversation, that generation was used to people falling ill and dying. They did it all the time. They did not have antibiotics. Recovery was a miracle; invalid relatives appear in novel’s marginalia all the time in the 19th century. Beth March is probably the most famous example. They all visit the seaside, but linger as shadows and then die. Yellow Fever and cholera epidemics were within living memory. Tuberculosis was rife. So numbed by the sheer scale of military casualties, the Spanish flu barely ripples across the pages of poetry. That people should fall ill and die was in the normal purview of the Grim Reaper. That a generation of men should be gassed, maimed and suffocated in muddy trenches was something new and horrifying.
But here we are a century on, innured to the medical magic bullets of antibiotics and vaccines. Except this particular virus has all the wiliness of a fox and the whole pack of hounds on its heels can simply not run it to earth. Or, at least, in no time in the near future. And for those who object to blood sports, I apologise to the fox in the metaphor above.
All this rumination comes from contemplating how you can be preparing a manuscript to send off to publishers (many of whom may go to the wall in the economic crash) without somehow referencing this collective experience. Or, as same friend in a phone call relates, the only thing that remains the same in one’s life are the seasons.
So for this Sunday’s Weekly poem I concentrated on one of the eternals in life.
By the by, the two of best selling authors whose names still had some recognition a century later were Zane Grey and Mary Roberts Rinehart. Agatha Christie broke out in Publishers Weekly in 1920. So if you can only read light fiction at the moment, you may have something in common with our ancestor’s pandemic reading tastes.
Contemplating the function of poetry in these strange times, it seems to me that the themes of impermanence and small joys speak to our current global condition. Elegies exercise grief over loss. Odes, too, can eulogise. Haiku, senryu, and tanka offer a snapshot image and feeling that is already gone except for the paper it is written on. Perhaps nature and love poems are the compensating joys, even if that, too, proves evanescent. The Celtish culture defined poetry as being ‘all memory.’ Memory can be a tricky thing. Holes can appear; we mend and make do to create meaning in the face of the great imponderables. In the face of our inchoate, post-Covid 19 future, philosophy may help us navigate day to day reality, but poetry may actually be what helps us navigate grief and uncertainty.
I know that some of my readers will be in the belly of a polar vortex this weekend. One Ohio based Facebook friend posted a photo of snowflakes on dandelion clocks. Here in Ireland today is chillier, after several days that were 20C (or 68 Farhrenheit in old money.) The sunshine made it feel warmer and I anointed myself with sunscreen for the first time this year, as one step beyond the floppy hat protection. We had the full Flower Moon, the last supermoon of 2020, this past week and astronomical Bealtaine (or Beltane outside of Ireland). As if waiting for its cue, the hawthorn began to unbutton its tight white buds and began to flower. I wrote a long Beataine poem this week that has been sent to a friend who posted me some life enhancing Lockdown light literature – crime fiction by Antonia Fraser, Raymond Chandler and J. M. Cain. I asked what I could send as a thank you and all she wanted was a Bealtaine poem! Classy lady, as another friend commented.
In the USA it is Mother’s Day. On this side of the pond we celebrate that on a Sunday that is close to the vernal equinox; it also is close to Lady Day, the feast of the Annunciation of Mary. Either date, the celebration of Mother’s Day has strong Marian overtones. Bealtaine, the month of May, is also a great fertility celebration as the growing season gets into full swing.
So for the Sunday Weekly I have written some tanka, although I have played a bit fast and lose with the rules in the latter. One is a salute to American Mother’s Day, which must feel rather odd this year for families that don’t share one roof. Lilacs are strong in my childhood memories of the month of May. Partially because there was a bush by the kitchen side door. Also partially because of hay fever memories from the bouquets brought to school for Marian celebration processions.
And this other tanka-ish poem is a nod to my near neighbours. I shouldn’t really say they are noisy, but… Their nest in the roof’s eaves is just above my writing space. So I cannot help but notice them.
Have a peaceful, restful Sunday with many small joys.
There is no freshly pressed Sunday Weekly poem this week. I did write, but I am not feeling the strong pull to post just at the minute. This Sunday weekly poem from the beginning of March is weirdly prescient in that our world will be a Before and an After Covid-19. Also, we had a bit of a kitchen sink drama in the past 48 hours that has eaten up a lot of time and energy. Despite a good ten hour sleep last night I feel weary. I need to cut myself some slack from routine. Routine is good for structuring one’s day and week, whether you live in lockdown or the times past. We have two more weeks before Ireland will gradually loosen lockdown. It will begin a three month process of gradually re-opening the country, measuring the curve and keeping it flat along the way.
In the meantime, I need some writing cocooning time. I need to re-think this blog. I have re-writes and a complete re-visioning of the manuscript I have been working on for the past nine months. Some things are eternal, but do they reflect the impermanance that is our current condition?
One thing this lockdown has done is ask us to address what is essential to our lives. Also, how to negotiate the non-essentials that really feel quintessential for a life well lived. Poetry is not essential work in this pandemic. Yet, poetry writing may just be essential for mental health under lockdown. Along with santizer, hearty hand cream and disposable gloves.
Yesterday the wind blew and rain poured down. It looked like it was going to be yet another weekend of stormy weather. But lo! There is some sunshine and the clouds there are not too fearsome. So I am going to keep the Sunday Weekly poem post short. Maybe a bit bittersweet. Because it is Potato Day at the Organic Centre and we need to get there early to have the most choice from the many seed varieties that will be on sale. Along with garlic. Which has great medicinal value for those of you in a panic over the Covid-19 virus. Grow your own. Get fresh air. Wash your hands. And be well!
The Sunday poem this week was prompted by a quotation in a Guardian Review article last week. I often don’t get to the Review section until well after Saturday. I am particularly fond of the image…
This is the final post for NaPo WriMo/ GloPoWriMo 2020. April comes to an end in Ireland with Poetry Day Ireland. Before lockdown, there were plans for me to visit five national (primary) schools in West Cavan, giving workshops to the classes. Then Poetry Day Ireland had to go digital. Somehow I felt unequal to recording a video of me reading a poem (though I am grateful others that have) or put something onto SoundCloud. It has been enough of a challenge to simply face the blank page each morning, to write, to revise and then post. And all going along side the wider news, staying connected with far flung family and friends, taking some daily exercise, helping in the garden, and getting creative in the kitchen while limiting shopping expeditions. And, of course, “sanitise, sanitise, sanitise. ” The theme for this year’s Poetry Day Ireland is “There Will Be Time.” If you would like to read the poem I have written for the day, you can read it on this separate post. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2020/04/30/happy-poetry-day-ireland-2/
For the past two years, I have spent the latter part of NaPoWriMo on the road. In 2018, I was visiting the sacred sites of southwest England with friends – Stonehenge, Avebury, Tintagel, Glastonbury, cathedrals. Last year my creative colleague, Morag, and I were motoring through Scotland to make it to Orkney by Bealtaine. Both May Days dawned chilly and here at home it seems like we will have a similar chill start to the month of Beataine.
But, the final poetry prompt from NaPoWriMo is on the theme of “something that returns.” For us, what we harken to is the cuckoo. I mark the date when we first hear its call in my diary. Given that I married a Cuckson, it feels familial.
While many friends and strangers have been writing their poem a day for NaPoWriMo/ GloPoWriMo 2020, which ends today, here in Ireland we celebrate Poetry Day Ireland. This year I should have been working with the kids in my local primary school, but such are the lockdown realities that PoetryDayIRL has had to go digital. I am grateful that many poets have created videos or shared sound files. Follow this link and you can find virtual/digital events that have been created on the hoof given lockdown realities. https://www.poetryireland.ie/news/poetry-day-ireland-2020-goes-digital.
The theme for 2020 is “There Will Be Time.” The ‘spark’ came from a poetry resource from NaPoWriMo, which referenced both Robert Browning and Emily Dickinson. As they say…poets steal.